On Thursday, December 14th, the FCC’s three Republican commissioners voted to repeal and replace the 2015 Open Internet Order issued by Barack Obama to provide “net neutrality.” This neutrality meant that Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T, could not slow down or block users from accessing any applications or websites.
Net neutrality means that the Internet is free and open, helping to protect freedom of speech. Everyone with an Internet connection can access the same content. With the repeal of the 2015 order, there are many questions as to how the Internet will function in the future.
What changes now that there is no net neutrality?
ISPs can now dictate which websites and applications you have access to. If Verizon, which owns Yahoo, decided that they wanted to block access to Google they could.
Now, it’s unlikely Verizon would block Google altogether – because Comcast or a competitor could then include Google access – but what you could see is a new business model where ISPs charge you based on access to certain “bundles.” Each bundle would be tied to a tier, where you’d need to pay more for access to a higher level tier.
These higher tiers would most likely be associated with websites or applications that use a ton of bandwidth, such as video streaming services like Netflix. An ISP could theoretically cut off access to Netflix altogether and roll out their own video streaming service, or they could force Netflix to pay more to ensure users have access and stream videos without constraints.
Interestingly, in 2014 – prior to the 2015 Open Internet Ordered – Netflix actually paid Comcast to stop the slowdown of its site.
Alternatively, you might see “fast lanes” created for some websites. These fast lanes would potentially require businesses (websites) to pay ISPs extra to be included, and in turn, ISPs may even charge consumers more for access to these fast lanes.
Keep in mind that what I’ve presented above are hypothetical scenarios, but ones that have played out to a degree prior to net neutrality.
Who benefits from no net neutrality?
The repeal of net neutrality is a free-market capitalist move that ends the FCC’s micro-management of the Internet, directly benefiting ISPs since they are no longer confined to uncompetitive pricing structures.
Part of Obama’s net neutrality rule prohibited a practice known as “paid prioritization,” which is a contractual agreement between a content provider, such as Netflix, and a network owner, such as Verizon. With paid prioritization, Netflix could pay Verizon for its data to travel on less congested networks, which is important because unlike email content, for example, streaming audio and video requires bits to travel through the network in the correct order in order to prevent choppiness, distortion, or other playback errors.
As noted above, Netflix has already paid ISPs for faster speeds in the past.
In addition to the ISPs, many Republicans and Libertarians – particularly those that favor a smaller, more “hands-off” government – tend to oppose net neutrality. Many claim that the Internet was working fine before and there was no need for the 2014 order. “Fine” is subjective though, and Netflix may not think it’s fine to have to pay off Verizon.
While this repeal of net neutrality is highly politicized, and one that Republicans Congressmen and women tend to back, a University of Delaware poll found that 81% of Democrats and 85% of Republicans opposed giving ISPs the ability to “charge some websites or streaming services extra for faster speeds.”
Ok, I get it, but how does this affect me or my medical or aesthetic practice?
Consumers (your patients) appear to be the first clear loser with the end of net neutrality, based on the scenarios outlined above. The other losers are small businesses, such as your practice.
There is the potential for new websites not only have to pay their regular monthly hosting fee, but now have to pay additional fees to become visible with certain ISPs, or even allow users to visit their website.
In the past, once you launched a website, with a good content marketing strategy, you could generate traffic and new businesses without having to pay for anything besides your monthly hosting fee and yearly domain name renewal fee.
Your practice might have paid for additional exposure through Google or Facebook ads as well. Without net neutrality, an ISP could theoretically try to funnel their users away from Google or Facebook and toward mediums that they own.
Google and Facebook have unlimited funds though, so they could put themselves on one of the aforementioned “fast tracks,” and that would mean that patients looking for your services could continue to do their typical research, engage with other patients, and review practices without being hamstrung by their ISP.
What can Congress do about this?
Likely very little, unless the Republican-backed Congress members break from party lines to use a “resolution of disapproval” to overturn the FCC’s decision.
What can Google or Facebook do about this?
The Internet Association is a group of companies – such as Google, Facebook, Netflix, Amazon, and Uber – that support net neutrality. This group could band together to create their own ISP, and they could even benefit from Google’s existing Fiber network.
While this is just a theory, one thing is for sure, the Internet Association will play a huge role in shaping the future of the Internet, regardless of net neutrality.
So what should I be doing now?
Much of what I’ve discussed above is speculation of what could happen, so the best course of action is to continue with your marketing “as is,” but stay tuned to the latest developments. That’s where it helps to have a digital marketing partner that understands the ever-evolving Internet landscape and how that affects the medical and aesthetic industries.